Just because you didn’t see it, that doesn’t mean it never happened

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
January 19, 2013

This past summer, my son and I were leaving the local swimming pool. As we left, I saw a group of teenaged boys sitting on a low wall. I had a bad feeling. I held my little boy’s hand tightly as we walked past them. At that moment, the leader ching chonged us and his friends started laughing.

Within a few seconds, all kinds of thoughts flashed through my head: Being called a chink by middle school kids when I was a kindergartner. Being called a chink bitch and shoved onto a muddy sidewalk by older boys who were hall monitors at my elementary school. Being called a dirty chink by a much older girl in my gymnastics class, who would threaten to beat me up.

But the thought that was most vivid was one of my father, who was waiting for me outside our local library. There was a little boy sitting nervously on his bicycle as my dad talked to him. The boy had called my father a chink, and my father was calmly explaining that it wasn’t a nice thing to say, and that his parents would be disappointed to hear him say that to an adult. (Who’re we kidding? We all know that this kid probably learned to be a racist at home. But my father was giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

The boy apologized and said he wouldn’t do it again. As he pedaled off on his bicycle, he turned around and screamed, “You fucking chink! Go back to your fucking country! I hate you! I hope all you chinks die!”

I was livid and embarrassed for my father and, to a lesser extent, for myself. I couldn’t believe that anyone would say that to a grownup, much less to my dad. We couldn’t even say the word “hate” in our household. My father just smiled and said, “I feel sorry for him. He has to live with all that anger. He’s not a very smart boy.” And then we went home.

So, now here I am, being ching chonged at about the same age my father was, and I’m feeling a combination of fear, anger, embarrassment and surprise. I could keep on walking or confront the kids. During that moment of hesitation, my four-year-old son asked me, “Why are they saying that to us?”

I turned around, walked back to where they were sitting and still laughing. To the leader, I said, “Fuck you. Watch your mouth. You’ve got ethnic friends.” They all stopped laughing and looked a little stunned. I’m not sure if they were shocked that I spoke English, or that I had just sworn at them. It didn’t matter. Pointing to his friends—two of whom were Hispanic—I said, “If he’s saying this to me, what do you think he’s saying behind your backs?”

And, to my surprise, the kid apologized.

As my son and I walked to the parking lot, I turned around a few times to make sure they weren’t following us. I was half expecting them to start laughing and make more nonsensical noises at us. But they remained mute, with their heads hung down low. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have dropped the F bomb in front of children. I’m not proud of that particular word choice.

My mother tells me that things will be better for my son when he goes to elementary school, because there’s more diversity, compared to my childhood days. And, she points out that none of us were subjected to prejudice when we were growing up. She never knew what happened at school, because I never told her. It wasn’t until recently that I said that we did face prejudice. Not every day, but certainly enough days so that we’d remember them.

Last year around this time, I wrote an article about Jeremy Lin and what he means to Asian Americans in general and to my son in particular. After the piece ran in the Chicago Tribune, there were numerous comments alleging that I had made things up or exaggerated, or that they had an Asian friend when they were in school and never saw any of the things I had described.

Just because you didn’t see it, that doesn’t mean it never happened.

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (63)

  1. lostintrafficlights says:

    ): *hug*

  2. nomethodjustmadness says:

    Your response to those kids was well deserved.

  3. Christina says:

    I would’ve done the same thing. No doubt in my mind… Possibly worse than just drop the F bomb. Kudos.

  4. Steven says:

    I wish i could be like your Dad, but both of you sound effective in your own way.

  5. Mike says:

    I cringed at your subject post. I read it again & cringed again. I didn’t want to read the whole story. I read it and cringed & cringed. I feel bad for your late dad. I like what you did. I think the F-bomb helped. I grew up in an all-white area and my parents taught respect, not racism.

  6. Harriet says:

    Totally made me cry. Why are people such jerks? Glad you pulled out the F guns.

  7. Mr Vince says:

    I don’t think I should say how I dealt with racist kids when I was at school ….

  8. KC says:

    I adore you!!!

  9. chipmnk says:

    I think your response was perfectly fine, cursing and all.

  10. Roy says:

    I felt the same way when someone would do that to my father. I bet you felt more rage when they did it to your dad then when it happened to you. Means you’re a good person.

  11. Well done for telling that little shit how you felt. Your son will always remember he has a strong mommy ^^

  12. Saying Fuck you to kids. I can’t get down with that.

    • Pam says:

      Dude. THAT’s what you got out of this piece, that she swore at the fuckers?

      Yes, let’s criticize her for daring to drop the F bomb on a group of teenage boys who had no issues with being racist to her and her son. Get the fuck out of here with that mansplaining!

    • mamalogues says:

      I think she handled it well, f-bomb included. Sometimes a harsh word choice is the slap in the face some punk kid needs to listen to the rest of the message. Everyone is discriminated against – I didn’t appreciate fat jokes as a young girl and it totally messed with my self image. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone disrespect me, especially in front of my kid. You little punks have been warned.

    • Matt says:

      I see nothing wrong with this. They were teenagers, like 13 to 19. Even a 13 year old is old enough to know better than to talk shit to an adult and her 4 year old kid. If they don’t want to be sworn at, don’t spew racist words. They’re lucky that I wasn’t there. I would’ve pushed them off the wall.

    • Marissa says:

      Yes, because kids who ching chong moms and their preschool children deserve such respect. Let’s not swear at the precious angels, because I’m sure they never use the F-word.

    • Peter Lawrence says:

      Why? These were teenagers. I can only guess the words they use if they would use such vulgar words to a mom and her child. There’s a time for everything. Make racial comments about me and my children and you deserve a well-placed “fuck you” every single time. Don’t want adults to swear at you? Don’t spew hate towards their children.

      Did you not read Jae’s article? She said that she was fearful as she was leaving them. No woman should ever have to fear “children” in a public setting like this. I wish I had been there to witness this. I would’ve called the police on these little “children”.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    You handled that very well.

  14. Jimin says:

  15. Dave says:
  16. Jared James says:
  17. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    From my sister:

    Oh my goodness that writing is so powerful. I remember sitting at the butcher’s with mother. Young boys slanted their eyes with their fingers, bowed to mother, snickering and said, “ah sooo.” I was 11. I knew that mother (and I) were being made fun of. Mother bowed back and said, “ah soo,” turned to me and said, “…very respectful boys.” I wondered if she really believed it or if she was trying to protect me. The boys laughed and walked away!

  18. peaceshannon says:

    Reprinted with permission from peaceshannon. Click on her name above to check out her fantastic Tumblr blog:

    as a korean adoptee, i got ching chonged all the time. got told to go back where i came from (but how the fuck did i know where i came from??) and had eyes pulled back at a slant or asked why my eyes weren’t open when of course they were. but as an adoptee, i had no mother or father who would understand, be able to defend me. actually, i felt like i had to protect my parents from knowing this happened to me. also, it was humiliating to admit. if i told someone, it felt like i was validating the opinion that i was less of a person. since of course my white brothers and sisters would have no reason to be subjected to this kind of taunting. in fact, they looked like the people who were subjecting me to the taunting. if i had a reason to be subjected to it, i was clearly inferior in some way. and i had no adult role model to show me otherwise. when i got older the ching chongs turned into “5 dolla me love you long time” and earnest proclamations that asians were hot, sometimes accompanied with questions about whether my vagina was really tight or sideways. with no female role models, i internalized the fetishization of asian women we see in american media. i dressed as charlie’s angels with two of my white girlfriends for halloween. i laughed it off when casual acquaintances called me mulan or miss saigon. i tried to ignore the dirty feeling when men of all races and ages looked at me as if i were a doll or a porn star. or the ones who catcalled or made obscene gestures at me. or even the ones who just “politely” greeted me in japanese or chinese or asked me where i was from, no where i was really from. i quieted the voice inside my head that suggested that even the most liberal of my white boyfriends had also internalized the exotic asian woman image. but who was i kidding?? if i couldn’t escape it, how could they? being in korea has finally released me from all of it. from all of the pretending it didn’t happen, pretending not to see or not to care. pretending not to know.

  19. arari says:

    Different situation, same experience.

  20. Sarah says:

    Jae! Your blog from the other day is spreading all over social media-it was very powerful.

  21. irato says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in an area where there are a lot of people from countries all over Asia, so this kind of racism doesn’t run rampant here. I’ve never experienced people laughing at me for being Korean and the most racist jokes were made lightheartedly- and amongst other Asians as well. Because of this kind of sheltered life, I was ignorant of the racial prejudices still present in the world today for most of my life.

    However

    doesn’t mean it’s not fucked up

    I’ll keep this story in mind if I ever encounter this shit

  22. Mike Kessler says:

    Years ago I interviewed comic Ron Mok of “Stir-Friday Night” and some of his quotes were: “I remember growing up in Evanston and being the only Asian in my grade school.”…”I felt alienated that no other nationalities wanted to mix or associate with my ethnicity.” I can’t remember the years he meant or when he was born.

  23. Desmond Epsomsalt says:

    Fantastic execution.

  24. Siobhan Murphy-Elias says:

    I didn’t know you could write in English without actually speaking English!!! HA!

  25. Andrew says:

    Well done. There’s nothing wrong with swearing at nasty children who don’t know how to respect their elders. They said profane words at your toddler for God’s sake!

  26. Carolyn says:

    This is great. YOU ROCK!

    Our son was adopted almost a year ago at age 13.99999 from China. He learned some bad words in Spanish in his ESL class (but of course!!!), so we explained to him why those words are bad… He also switches his g and k sounds and with his accent he can’t say l, so the word nickel sounds like you guessed it, the N word….. Awesome @@. Don’t want someone getting butthurt over a kid with a congential speech impediment + accent @@. We also had to explain to him that he might hear the word “chink” at school and that it is an insult. He did not understand. I hope he doesn’t have to. We exist (we are Caucasian) in an Asian bubble in our community. He’ll be a freshman at a school with a large Vietnamese population next year… a Chinese orphan with 2 fat very NON Asian parents. I wonder what will happen when he gets out of that Asian bubble though. In middle school he understood almost ZERO English and had some groupies thanks to the Sci Fi show “Firefly” since they spoke Mandarin.

  27. hp says:

    Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this website.

  28. I feel like we are living in a time of increased racism. I’m saddened because of this. Hate is a driving tool by many politicians these days;(

  29. Dave Owens says:

    One of my friends experienced something like this and his response when it happened to him was, “I’m not a chink, you moron. I’m Korean. If you’re going to be a racist asshole, you could at least get it right and call me a gook.”

    I really wish I could’ve been there to see the guy’s reaction.

    • Pat Lewis says:

      This seems like a good idea, but now the racist moron has another slur to use. My cousin said that the point of these slurs is to dehumanize people.

  30. Nancie S. Martin says:

    Sorry this happened to you, Jae. All I usually have to worry about at a pool is a sunburn. But you turned it into an excellent piece.

  31. ℛℳ ♡ says:

  32. Harriet Fancott says:

  33. Alice Fu says:

  34. Bec Mon 🍒 says:

  35. Jocelyn says:

    I’m glad you stood up to the teens. They needed to hear it.

  36. Helen says:

    You handled it well!

  37. Amy Strassburger VanStee says:

    I need to be prepared for this and I think it would be incredibly difficult to know what to say in the moment.

    • Pat says:

      My friend has told me that it rarely happens when she and her children are with white people. And her white friends are shocked that it happened because they say they never saw anything like that happen around them.

  38. Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

    This happened a week and a half ago to my husband at a local gas station. He came home and relayed what happened. He was stunned. Two young caucasian men in a jacked up truck he could hear before he could see it came through and the passenger yelled the disgusting racial slur holding up his middle finger. This youngster has no idea that my husband is one of the kindest, most hard working, nicest guys around. A retired fire captain who could probably save that same fools life if he needed CPR. But this racist idiot chose to be hateful as his friend sped off into traffic (so brave). Racism has ALWAYS been a thing. To think it hasn’t and isn’t is being uninformed. And to the people who don’t think that it has escalated due to our commander in chief’s hateful platform he ran on and encouraged are being ignorant. Proud of you and proud of your dad. P.S. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there when the incident happened. It would’ve been ugly.

  39. Maureen O'Donnell says:

    Good for you, Jae, a true city girl.

  40. Laureen Giovannetti Andre says:

    Wow! How dam sad!

  41. Melanie Falconer-Brown says:

    Your son is so privileged to have you as his mother. You are awesome <3

  42. Pamela Johnson Stadler says:

    Crass little jerks. I hope it will become a pivotal moment in their life and will change their outlook for the better. I wouldn’t be too upset about your language. They were lucky something worse didn’t happen (don’t mess with a moma bear’s babies)

  43. Dale Shuen says:

    I’m sorry to hear about these incidents. Thanks for standing up and writing about them.

  44. Denise Adams says:

    A fairly new to the USA (a few years) Korean kid in my kids’ elementary/jr. high school did the “ching chong” comment to a Chinese student who started talking to him in Chinese (mistaken ethnicity- Chinese kid is a new immigrant) this year. I was surprised/not surprised to hear the story from my DD. Biggest question is where does a new immigrant hear these words and intentionally do it to another new immigrant kid in a school which is predominantly made up of Asian American students? Doesn’t the kid realize someone could do it to him too since Asian Americans are sometimes lumped together as one group when it comes to these kind of ugly comments? Unbelievable behavior… It is bad enough when someone else does it that isn’t Asian but an Asian to an Asian is just deplorable…. 🙁

    • Aimee Perrino says:

      When I was teaching ESL in a rural high school, I had three new students come from China. A Korean adoptee (who had lived in this rural area pretty much all of his life) was one of the worst offenders when it came to harassing them with racist slurs. A…See More

      • Denise Adams says:

        Aimee Perrino, so sad. Sad thing is same kid curses at Korean American kids in korean who understand Korean and teachers don’t have a clue what he is saying in class 🙁

        • Aimee Perrino says:

          Ugh, Denise Adams. Parents need to get involved but maybe don’t know it’s going on. What grade?

          • Denise Adams says:

            Difficult age, do you let kids self advocate for wrongdoings or do the parents directly contact school at that age ? Still debating what to do. Chinese kid probably doesn’t even understand what was done to him because of language skills and the other case, well equally difficult.

            • Pat Martin Lewis says:

              No offense intended but I think this is deflecting from the conversation. The majority of Asian American children aren’t being tormented by other Asian American children. In these isolated instances, it seems like these kids were kicking the weaker kids around so that they wouldn’t be at the bottom rung. I don’t approve of it. But it is most likely that they learned these hateful words by being called them.

              As for the Korean adoptee living in the rural area harassing the new Chinese students, can you imagine what he endured as the Asian kid (prior to the new kids)?

              • Denise Adams says:

                “But it is most likely that they learned these hateful words by being called them.”
                that was my point and i mentioned that earlier on when talking about the incidences of Asian on Asian. The words one Asian initially heard directed at him/her from a nonAsian triggered another chain of events (bigger than expected) which filtered down and created even a hostile environment for new immigrants from people who they initially expected to be an ally. Mentioning it is not deflecting, but rather sharing how far reaching these initial ugly words can spread to be used to create division even in the Asian American community as a whole. The whole “perpetual stranger” stereotype that Asian Americans deal with because of how they look, creates division even among the Asian American community depending on the generation.

                • Pat says:

                  Ah, I read it as you actually wondering where they had learned those slurs, ’cause you said, “Biggest question is where does a new immigrant hear these words and intentionally do it to another new immigrant kid in a school which is predominantly made up of Asian American students?” I didn’t get your implication that they learned it from other (most likely non Asian kids)

                  • Denise Adams says:

                    Pat Martin Lewis sorry if it was not clear originally. I guess my sarcasm/ implied answer didn’t come through with just typing it.

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